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Dying to be Beautiful?

Could the beautiful Lady Coventry have been killed by her makeup?

 
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White Lead Make-up

The story told of Maria (née Gunning), the Countess of Coventry, is that she was penniless, but incredibly beautiful. She and her sister used their good looks and charm to make a successful introduction into 18th century London society. A wealthy Earl fell madly in love with Maria and married her. Her beauty, however, came at a deadly price. The secret to her allure was toxic white lead make-up, which she refused to give up. She died at the age of twenty-seven, leaving behind a grieving husband and three small children.

But is this romantic and tragic tale true?

Could a young woman die from her white lead make-up?

 
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Who are we?

We are a multi-disciplinary team of scientists who are exploring the toxicity and light reflecting properties of white lead make-up using cosmetic recipes from the 18th century.

We want to answer two questions.

  1. Could young women die from absorbing the lead in their makeup through their skin?

  2. What did this make-up actually look like when worn on a woman's skin?

 
 
 

Keep in Touch

Keep up to date with the work of the  Toxic Allure Research Group by signing up for our quarterly newsletter using the subscribe form below. We enjoy our research immensely and we'd love to tell you more about our behind the scenes work, our successes, and share some of the funny stories and makeup photo fails that have happened along the way.

If you have comments or questions you can reach us at: